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Part 1: Future of world karate thoughts (Kata) 形試合の大会システム向上についての私の考え

 All-Japan National Junior High Championships, March 2013

I often wonder how to improve kata competition and its healthy appeal to more karate-ka.

How can kata, which contains a vast knowledge of the practice of traditional karate, be more well represented from the local to world level within the WKF system?

How can the millions of karate-ka who compete in kata feel competition is more fairly balanced?

How can kata - and its different styles - be better supported by world and regional karate sport organizations, by national federations and by style associations?

The word on the street is kata is on its way out of world competitions, which I don't believe it. First, kata is included in many world events already, and second, competition kata is still popular with athletes from the grassroots level up.

There are probably more karate clubs emphasizing the practice of kata than emphasizing the practice of kumite, especially since kata performance is more connected with rank testing and it is safer to do.

Done well, kata it is a powerful puzzle of skills to accomplish as a personal challenge. It comes from the past, but it is still dynamic in the present if done 'correctly'. Is it the ultimate system to master in order to win any fight? No, as there is no such system. And to worry simply about learning to fight and only fight would be a paranoid exist.

The benefits can be debated elsewhere, as here I want to suggest how competitive kata can be improved.

In order for kata competition to be more fair, athletes should compete against each other using a competitive format that is a equal as possible. And such a format should further promote the technical, historical strengths of the karate world, since it is an integral part of karate's fabric.

Fair kata competition is difficult since judging is speculative as officials themselves have their own ideas of correct and incorrect performances based on their own official's training, their unique time spent actually officiating and they personal experiences with different styles. In addition, coaches and athletes from whatever style have different ideas among them about how to best to perform kata they think balances the accepted parameters of the WKF system and their own understanding of their style association's requirements.

Currently kata competition at times is frustrating because it is hard to truly determine which athlete is performing 'better', especially at higher levels of competition when two different style athletes who are very competent in their style face off against each other.

A great performance of the kata Annan up against a great Superimpei kata performance are two different 'technical obstacle courses' the athletes are demonstrating. Both kata really don't compare well when you think about it, especially when the officials have varied understandings of each kata. Lastly, the performances are from two different styles each with different interpretations of kata requirements for high-level representation.

This is just like how a 100 meter race is not the same as a 200 or 400 meter race. The pacing and even technical form can be different to match the challenge.

Therefore, I suggest kata be re-organized into several new categories for national, continental and world events (but maybe not local as I explain down below);

Suggestion 1
Separate kata competition divisions should be created for each accepted WKF style and judged only by officials certified to judge in that style. Shotokan kata athletes compete in the Shotokan division, Goju in the Goju division, etc.

Suggestion 2
There should be one open kata competition division which only requires shitei kata.

Ok, some might find this a little much, but let it sink in a minute as it makes a lot of sense.

Style only explanation
In both the style-only kata divisions and the open kata divisions, for each round 2 athletes line-up as normal in front of the judges and then one kata from the accepted kata list for that division is somehow chosen at random by the judges for each athlete to perform.
For example, in the Shotokan kata division, the lead judge holds up a sign that says 'Unsu', then the Aka (red) athlete performs it first, followed by the Ao (blue) athlete, after which the judges chose the winner by majority flags.

Yes, the same kata.
Now we have an exciting competition between two athletes. No more head scratching over whether that great Annan was good enough to beat the long, perfectly timed Superimpei.

Same kata obstacle course creates a truly equal opportunity.

Style-only kata competitions would require the WKF technical committee to decide on a list of kata for each approved style like there is now, but perhaps limited to 10-15 kata. And while there are already separate style association world events with kata divisions, a combined style kata division would allow the WKF to reinforce the importance of an athlete's commitment to their style.

By separating the styles, all the main karate styles now get to have their style front and center. The true best of the best of the styles get to shine brighter - sure, kata is still speculative, but everyone knows that going it.

There would have to be some negotiation over what the WKF will accept within the correct parameters of kata style presentation - which they already are supposed to do - and then widely educate the karate community about these parameters - which I explain more below.

The benefits are very good for this idea.

(Now, Richard, your core style is Wado, and Wado kata athletes never make it to the final 8 at the WKF level, etc, etc...)

Sure, totally true, but Wado is a major style that has been part of the universe of karate since karate started to be called 'karate' and not 'te', and Wado, like Shotokan, Shito, Goju and perhaps a few other styles, could benefit from more WKF sunlight.

With style-specific kata divisions, there will be more WKF kata world champions kicking around, a positive development spreading the interest of kata more widely, just like having separate weight divisions in kumite, no different.

At local competitions depending on the make-up of the event, there are two possibilities here.

1. Athletes in the same kata style divisions perform the same kata at the same time in the lower rounds to save time, with the higher rounds having the athletes perform separately as normal.

2. Have all the kata styles compete against they each other as they do now in a full open, again perhaps in the lower rounds the 2 athletes perform at the same time since local competitions normally have numerous entrants from different styles (not a fixed number of qualified athletes like in national, continental and world events). It's just easier to have completely open kata divisions in a local open event since there are never enough qualified officials for each style and if style only there wouldn't be enough time to run through sometimes hundreds or thousands of child kata athletes in one day.

For me, if the limited time allotted for huge open kata divisions (which are normally children) is a concern, instead of using the old number scoring system, I prefer the 2 athletes perform whatever kata they want from the WKF approved list at the same time with the judges using the flag system because this saves time. Time can also be saved by reducing the amount bowing athletes do before entering the ring and by having volunteers line-up each kid on-deck in order for them to quickly enter for the next round. If the volunteers are slow on this point, the time requirement can almost double for one round.

Open style kata division explanation
For open kata competition, I suggest only the 8 shitei kata are used. Sure, if the kata chosen is from one of the athlete's core styles then they may have an advantage.
Or they may not.

Does being a multi-versed karate kata athlete make you better or worse?
In comparison, a golfer and sprinter don't like to change their technical movement from one style to another, but a strong dancer can very versatile switching between different styles of dance.

As a fighter, which kata athletes are supposed to be, is it better in competition they demonstrate the depth of one style or be a comprehensive high-level performer of karate? Or both?

The development I have seen more recently is that the best kata athletes already incorporate different style kata into their tournament repertoire.

How can someone claim to be the best of the best if they can't do the other obstacle courses?

Both of these suggestions may sound radical at first, but they make a lot of sense.

First, a level playing field is created in terms of an athlete being required to perform an equal challenge, the same kata.

Two, the millions of average people who practice karate are style-based and many of these people are much more interested in kata than kumite. Whether as a competitor or spectator, style-only national, continental and world events would suddenly be much more appealing.

Three, emphasizing kata brings it to the foreground again of the karate movement.

I don't believe the recent grumblings that kata performances are getting worse and that's because now there is just too much information to access on how to perform kata better, as more style associations are more active holding seminars and there is loads of good content online if one knows where to look.

In addition, the WKF, style associations and national federations could do a much better job to get better quality information out to the masses and especially the club instructors. For example, the ability to produce low-cost, high quality online web seminars is easy to do if the organizers get it right. Even just Skyping a seminar kata lesson using projectors and large monitors can make in-depth kata learning possible from anywhere to anywhere. Heck, even just on an iPad is possible if the person presenting does a good job explaining - probably it's better than being in a seminar with a hundred people and straining one's eyes from the back to see what's being said up front.

While the quality of club instructors varies, free, widely accessible up-to-date official videos and training programs online will reduce the worry of lack of good information.

At the end of the day, whether individual recreational and competitive karateka incorporate good training and good training habits is up to them.

But I can see a technical director for whatever style every week holding free instructor 'webinars' on the finer points on a certain kata performance that members of that instructor's style can easily log into. No different with a national all-styles sports federation or the WKF itself holding webinars open to anyone.

Next post;
Suggestions for the future of sport karate: kumite...
After that, a change to competition design to improve athlete's performance and 'times at bat'.